Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leave it behind

Bob, the busy boss, always has stacks on his desk, an overloaded email inbox, and working on some assignment that was due yesterday. When you ask him how he is doing, he often responds with a comment about being overwhelmed. Often it seems like there are too many Bobs around.

Reflecting back, were these “busy bosses” really working on important stuff? I was fortunate early in my career to get some outstanding coaching from a seasoned leader. He told me the downfall of many talented people was that they took the parts of the job they liked or were good at up with them when they were promoted. Not only did this limit the leadership tasks for the person replacing them, it also caused them to be busy working on things that were not their job.

Some real examples observed of this are signing authorizations below your level of responsibility, hiring your people’s people and performing quality control on team assignments. This mentor taught me to take every new assignment from a clean slate. Understand your new role and let your replacement be successful.

Do you approach every assignment as separate from your last? Do you leave the old job behind?


Monday, April 27, 2009

“Try Honesty”

Sometimes the funniest things trick a great memory. This weekend at Coachella it was when the Billy Talent band played their popular song “Try Honesty.”

In 1991, I made a significant career transition moving from middle management in Operations and Manufacturing to Supply Chain Management. I was fortunate enough for the senior executive to recognize that I would likely need guidance to be successful and he asked Ron to be my mentor during the transition. Ron was recognized within the industry as an expert and a developer of talent.

The manufacturing world I was coming from was tough, aggressive, long hours, competitive, cut throat and entrenched in heavy Theory X. They trained me for the previous ten years to function in that world, so I assumed all organizations worked the same way. I can remember Ron’s first lesson to me in successful supplier relationships. We had one situation where we needed a supplier to implement a change that would cost them a little money, and we were not in a position to pay for it right then. Ron and I were brainstorming how we were going to accomplish the task at hand. Ron let me toss out idea after idea and finally made this suggestion, “why don’t we tell them the truth?” That had not crossed my mind.

The supplier responded very positively to our request and I learned a valuable lesson I’ve used since. Even in the worse cases, always be honest.

We have all seen careers tumble due to lack of stating the truth, but have you experienced careers accelerate due someone’s courage to tell the truth?


Friday, April 24, 2009

Sixth Man Captain

After a credible high school basketball career at McCann Technical School in rural western Massachusetts, I was invited by Coach Steve Atkins to try out for the Springfield Technical Community College basketball team. Seemed like a no brainer.

It was 4:00 PM at the old Springfield National Guard Armory and time for tryouts. This was different and the start of a life-changing experience. The players at this session could shoot, jump, block shots, dribble like the ball was part of their hand and see everything happening on the court. What else was different for me? I was the only white guy to make the team.

When you play with players more talented than yourself, you find that you can make up for certain things by working harder, being more intense, focusing on fundamentals, studying the completion and demonstrating leadership skills. These efforts earned me a solid sixth man position and the role as team captain. Not only was I learning valuable diversity lessons that would be carried far into my career, I also learned firsthand that leaders can be recognized and appreciated by being one of the starters.

This life lesson formed many of my long-term beliefs about diversity and the value of hard work. Have you ever been the talent underdog? How did you overcome it?


Thursday, April 23, 2009

$50 Billion spent annually learning about Gen Y!!

$50 Billion spent annually learning about Gen Y!!

Seems kind of crazy, but $50 Billion (yes with a ‘B’) is the estimate provided by Morley Safer in the 11 November 2007 “60 Minutes” segment called “The Millennials Are Coming.” If you have not had the opportunity to view this video, you might want to. It is not necessarily flattering for the Gen Ys, but it is something leaders at all levels do not think about and learn from often enough.

Here is a simple idea – why doesn’t each of us get a 22-year old mentor and learn for nothing?


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Drowned in Diversity

What do Billy Talent, MIA, The Liars, Dr. Dog, Superchunk, Ida Maria, Thenewno2 Glasvegas and Calexico have in common with Paul McCarthy and Booker T? You might be saying, “Say what?” All were exciting acts at the 2009 Coachella Art and Music Festival in the Indio desert in California this weekend.

Each year, I take the opportunity to do something I truly enjoy (learning new bands and types of music) and total immersing myself outside people like myself. If you really want to know what the Gen Y’s are up to, hang out with 60,000 of them for the weekend. Listen to the music, learn the lyrics, observe the clothes, read the logos on the shirts and just as importantly, notice what they are not doing. I still remember the reaction of the fans from watching the youngster walking around with the red and white AIG soccer shirt.

It is critical that leaders take overt actions to place themselves outside of their comfort zone for the purpose of learning and expanding their capability. The same concept is true with participating in experiences that expand your knowledge and comfort with diverse people different from yourself.

What do you do to continue to expand your diversity comfort zone?


Monday, April 20, 2009

The best way to do something new

The topic of “creating the need for change” has always intrigued me.

The other day I was talking to a retiring CEO who described to me the things he planned to pursue in his next “career.” They were noble and important things he never had time for before. In the same sentence, the CEO told me how he had canceled his subscriptions to Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and a couple other publications. I was surprised in that I thought he would have more time to read these things so I asked. He simply said, “They do not fit in with my new priorities.”

It reminded me how at the start of many of the corporate all-hand meetings leadership classes I often inquired if the attendees had been to this location before, if they parked in the same place and if they walked the same route. Unless you do something overt to create change (or learning) to take place, it will not.

So – the best way to do something new is to stop doing something old. The simple act of changing your routine as a leader will cause you to learn and meet different people. I was once on the executive floor of one of our buildings. In practicing what I preached, I decided for a couple of weeks to get off the elevator on whatever floor was already pressed when I got in and spend 5 minutes walking around. I was amazed at how many people I met and the cool things they were working on.

What can you do differently tomorrow to create positive change?


Friday, April 17, 2009

Leadership Success is Measured When You Leave

I had the opportunity to have a networking lunch with the retiring CEO of a very successful technology company. He was one of the original ten employees, grew the company to over 500 teammates and took the company public on NASDAQ. While he was in the middle of the transition to the new CEO, he moved out of his office, encouraged the team to go to his replacement with issues and focused on mentoring the new CEO.

What struck me was the importance he placed on the success of the organization as he exits. He told me the he was measuring his leadership success based on how well the team does without him. If the team struggles, then he did not achieve the level of team development he had hoped. While we have talked about “exiting with grace” on LiaV, this takes it to another level. While there may have been a time when it was about him, now it is completely about the team.

Have you had the opportunity to see a role model leadership exit? What did it look like?


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don’t Underestimate Susan!!!

This leadership lesson needs no words from me!

WATCH THIS VIDEO of Susan Boyle and you will be reminded of the importance for leaders to give first impressions time to mature (it is 7 minutes).

Thomas Magness’ blog “Leader Business – Battle tested leadership strategies and business leaders” brought it to my attention and I had to share with you.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“Simple Competence” – Leadership and the Peter Principle

As a young manufacturing engineer aspiring to a successful career, it drove me crazy when my seniors would suggest I needed more time to mature and develop foundation skills to become a strong leader. My argument, like many young people, was that the only way to get experience was to do the higher level job.

This all seemed to make sense and I stuck with this belief. This weekend I read Robert Sutton’s article in Business Week about the 40th anniversary edition of “The Peter Principle” by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull that might have swayed my opinion. The general rule was “anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.” You might have heard the narrow career version where “managers will be promoted to their level of incompetence.” Sutton’s point was that sometimes we should praise and reward competence.

If we believed we had some level of best performance, would we be more patient in our careers?


Monday, April 13, 2009

A rare breed – Web 2.0 savvy executives

I engaged in my first blog posting at the coaching of a group of Gen Y “mentors” who asked me to use blogging to “mentor the masses.” It was uncomfortable and I had to unlearn many of the skills that made me successful in business. I had to write in the first person, present personal perspectives and have stated opinions otherwise, it would be just another company website.
As it turns out, these skills are valued in the business world, and executive search firms have this talent as a new requirement in their current searches. A recent article on titled “But What’s Your Screen Name? - Companies need executives with Web 2.0 know-how, but many are struggling to catch on” by Alan Rappeport explains why executives with strong Web 2.0 understanding and experience bring in top dollar.

If you are hearing about blogs and want to learn more, a good place to start is to read the domain blogs you are interested in and perhaps comment once in a while. Executives might gain as much street credibility in blog-land by supporting as they would by hosting. If you want more insights or ideas, you may appreciate Mike Hyatt’s “Corporate Blog Handbook” ideas posted on “Working Smart.”

Have you had to unlearn skills to be successful in Web 2.0-land?


Friday, April 10, 2009

It’s all perspective – Leaders understanding generations

It’s all perspective – Leaders understanding generations

A couple months ago, I was checking and sending a few emails on a Sunday evening. I was catching up and the notes were not anything particularly important that needed answered before Monday morning.

Before I was finished sending the email notes, one of them was answered by a Gen Y teammate. Half in jest and half serious, I emailed back that she should not be “working” on Sunday evening. I thought the topic was closed, but the next morning I had another one of those boomer learning moments. Luckily, the teammate from the prior evening knew she could come and talk about leadership topics even if I had something to learn. She explained that my “not working Sunday night” comment showed that I did not fully understand that the Gen Y culture. That the Gen Y’s were always connected and answering a quick email was not always considered “work.” From her perspective, “boomers work too much, Gen X wants a work / life balance and Gen Y blends work and play.” Although these are stereotypes, it was an interesting new way to view at such a simple topic.

What do you think of this generalization? What are some of your experiences with various generations and their work preferences?


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Weren’t we done with that?

I “virtually” ran into an old friend and trusted colleague the other day. I was networking with a prominent senior executive on the East coast and he referred me to Jane as the person who knew the answer to my question.

Jane is a educated, experienced and capable individual I had the privilege to lead many years ago. She is now an executive leading an important transformation initiative at a Fortune 100 company. In our conversation, Jane mentioned there were still a few men in the organization that were struggling with the idea of working for a woman in a leadership role. That set me back. I uncomfortably laughed and said, “Weren’t we done with that decades ago?” Having grown up with a working mom, six older sisters that could kick my butt, and now being married to an extremely talented executive who has eight professionally educated sisters, what Jane was telling me was not in my immediate world.

I’ve been curious how many men still struggle with the gender of the person in the leadership role above them. Is it more the leader and their capability or these external attributes that make up the leader?

What have you observed? Do you have ideas we can all learn from?


Monday, April 6, 2009

Hoop Heaven – Diversity or not?

Greetings from Detroit, Michigan. Home of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four.

The excitement builds from making sure the binoculars are in the luggage, through the plane rides as fans start to collect, to arrival where the mega NCAA banner welcomes you to Detroit, to the game opening tip-offs and exciting victories. It is a haven for basketball fans.

As a leader and student of people, this is either an extremely diverse or a completely homogeneous crowd. The case of homogeneous = predominantly male, lots of blue jeans, khaki’s and baseball caps, above average height, generally in the 30 to 50 age group and love college hoops. The case for diversity = they come from all over the nation, represent almost every college (large and small, and whether they attended or not), make up every race, cover every level of athletic capability and speak many languages.

The venue and purpose are clearly the same. Enjoy the competition and event.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, how do you view the diversity of this crowd?


Friday, April 3, 2009

“Things you own end up owning you” - Leaders find what motivates

For whatever reason, I’ve always been a form of a minimalist. I’m the type of person that does have extra stuff and prefers not to replace things until absolutely necessary. This trait is certainly in vogue with today’s economy.

When I first heard the quote in the 1999 cult movie The Fight Club, “things you own end up owning you,” it made me smile. Later, bands like Papa Roach and Bleed in Vain would see the same thing I did and use it in their lyrics.

As a leader, it makes me thrifty, someone who wants expenditures justified and a person that can envision a lean operation free of clutter and inventory. Those who have visited my office can vouch that it is sparsely decorated and only work-in-progress is out. As a member of a team, I am more motivated by the opportunity to work on the difficult assignments than being rewarded with “stuff.” Knowing I am at one extreme of a continuum, I have been careful to observe others and be sure to recognize them as they prefer. This means to do it differently than what I like.

Have you carefully made this assessment when you recognize teammates? Have you lessons to share?

For the extreme minimalist, here is a look at The Story of Stuff with Anne Leonard.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

“No early swiping” - Leaders start from a basis of trust

The large conference center was filling up quickly. Teammates of all types were joining in. The folks that work on the factory floor were mixing with office workers and top leadership. It was a mandatory ethics training event and last year’s class was quite interesting. In the middle of the “finding a seat” process, you could hear the administrative team calling out “no early swiping.” “No early swiping.”

The concept was that credit for attending the class was to be provided upon completion when each teammate would swipe their badge through the electronic proximity scanner. The implied assumption was that if the scanning was done upon completion, then it assured full session attendance. Unfortunately, the teammates that attended this training in the past knew there was going to be a sizable queue at the end and simply wanted to avoid this waste of time. Thus, the call for “no early swiping.”

It seems like many times when leaders try to second guess the integrity of the people we lead, the intent is misjudged. Whether it is early swiping or providing the tools to get a job done most expeditiously, we often build procedures for the 99th percentile individual. This is costly and impacts morale. Procedures and processes for the masses are typically fine.

Have you been able to ensure your processes are not overly cumbersome? Have you had luck eliminating any?


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